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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

Apart from not having to go to work, the great thing about the Christmas and New Year holiday is that pretty much everyone else is away as well. That means coming back to a (relatively) clear desk, without new things having piled up as they tend to when we are away from our desks any other time of the year. There is an inevitable settling-in period of a few days at the beginning of January as we get up to speed and try to remember why certain things seemed so important in December. This break in the normal routine also gives us an opportunity to take a step back and look at important...
2016 has turned out to be quite a year politically. The move towards what is loosely referred to as ‘populism’, evident in the surprise (to some) referendum vote for Brexit, the even more surprising (to some) election of Donald Trump as US president and the less-surprising rejection of Matteo Renzi’s attempt at Italian constitutional reform, seems set to continue. This may have far-reaching consequences for society and political priorities. The old categories of Left and Right have to a large extent been turned on their heads. The British Labour Party, set up to champion...

Clearing the air

09.12.2016
Air pollution is a high-profile issue. Half a century ago, coal was still the main source of domestic heat and electricity. City buildings were covered in a permanent layer of soot deposited from the air, the rest being breathed in by residents and workers. In London, the Great Smog of 1952 was but the worst of a pattern of such events, but it led to the passing of the Clean Air Act in 1956. Since then, air quality in the UK capital and other major cities in the developed world has improved enormously, but pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and ozone, as well as microscopic particles (...
As average life expectancy continues to increase and everyday life for most people in the developed world is safer than it has ever been, the pressure to eliminate remaining hazards has not abated. Now that infectious diseases are no longer the mass killers they were, our expectations of a safe and healthy life have grown. For example, we have seen stepwise tightening of the EU regulatory system for plant protection products (or pesticides as most people will continue to call them). While undoubtedly done with the best of intentions, there has never been any evidence that the group...
A decade ago, we were all being encouraged to buy diesel cars to reduce CO2 emissions. More recently, reports of the health toll caused by urban air pollution – much of it down to older generations of diesel engines – together with VW’s infamous ‘dieselgate’ scandal, seemed to mean that the days of diesel were numbered. But perhaps we should think again. A Bloomberg story this week suggests that Tesla shock means global gasoline demand has all but peaked. The basis of the headline comes from the latest report on the future demand for energy: “The...
In a recent posting, McKinsey offered some thoughts on how global energy use will develop up to mid-century (Energy 2050: Insights from the ground up). They used available data and historical trends to model patterns of use based on a business-as-usual scenario, that is, with no major changes to technology or trends in energy use or efficiency. As for any projection forward for several decades, the only thing we know for certain is that this will be wrong, but at least we can get at flavour of what steady progress would result in, ignoring the inevitable unforeseen factors and events. The...
On Monday, COP 22 – the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – began in Marrakech, Morocco. Unlike last year’s event in Paris, this climate summit has received little publicity. There is hardly a mention of it in the mainstream media. Even the fact that the Paris agreement came into force last week (with the backing of both US and Chinese presidents, representing the two largest emitters of CO2) made little splash. Even if it had, the world woke up two days after the jamboree had started to the unexpected (and, to...

Nuclear con-fusion

04.11.2016
In 1989, two physicists – Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons – held a press conference to reveal an experiment that apparently demonstrated nuclear fusion at room temperature. Understandably, this caused a furore in the scientific world, but after the hype came the consensus that this was essentially a con. In fact, the situation is much more complicated than a simple case of poorly-designed experiments, misinterpretation or even scientific fraud. One of the problems was the name given to the observed phenomenon, cold fusion. The suggestion that atomic nuclei could be made to...
An intense El Niño event has raised global average temperatures recently, in the same way as the spike in 1998. But all the indications are that the Pacific is turning towards La Niña conditions, which will depress temperatures for the next year or so. It is too early to tell what trend we will see after that part of the ocean has settled back to ‘normal’, but these spikes appear to be superimposed on an essentially steady average temperature. This, however, is not what you would think if you read recent headlines about the most recently published measurements of...
Two major UK travel infrastructure projects are slowly edging towards realisation. One is HS2, which is looking increasingly like an extremely expensive way to add extra capacity on the West Coast mainline, affordable only to business travellers; the other is a third runway at Heathrow, to give London’s main airport a fighting chance of remaining a key international hub. While experience shows we are not necessarily the worst at completing such projects – Heathrow Terminal 5 and the Olympic Park were built to schedule, unlike Berlin’s new airport and Stuttgart’s new...

Current Issues


Future costs of UK energy supply

The Scientific Alliance recently published part 1 of an examination of National Grid's Future Energy Scenarios, dealing with security of supply. We are now pleased to publish part 2 - cost of supply. The authors - Dr Capell Aris and Colin Gibson - conclude that building more gas and nuclear stations would be considerably less expensive than any of the NG scenarios, as well as offering better energy security.

What's New

14 October 2016: Read the new report by Dr Capell Aris, published jointly with the Adam Smith Institute - Solar power in Britain: the Impossible Dream